6. Net enrolment ratio in primary education



Net primary enrolment ratio is the ratio of the number of children of official school age (as defined by the national education system) who are enrolled in primary school to the total population of children of official school age. Primary education provides children with basic reading, writing, and mathematics skills along with an elementary understanding of such subjects as history, geography, natural science, social science, art, and music


Goal/target addressed

Goal 2. Achieve universal primary education.

Target 3. Ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling.



The indicator is used to monitor progress toward the goal of achieving universal primary education, identified in both the Millennium Development Goals and Education for All initiatives. It shows the proportion of children of primary school age who are enrolled in primary school. Net enrolment refers only to children of official primary school age. (Gross enrolment includes children of any age.) Net enrolment rates below 100 percent provide a measure of the proportion of school age children who are not enrolled in the primary level. This difference does not necessarily indicate the percentage of students who are not enrolled, since some children might be enrolled at other levels of education.


Method of computation

The indicator is calculated as the number of enrolled students within the appropriate age cohort according to school records as reported to ministries of education, divided by the number of children of primary school age.


Data collection and source

Data on school enrolment are usually recorded by the country ministry of education or compiled from surveys and censuses. Data on the population in the official age group for the primary level are available from national statistical offices, based on population censuses and vital statistics registration. Nationally reported values will be the same as internationally reported values only if the same methods and population estimates are used.


For international comparisons and estimates of regional and global aggregates, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Institute for Statistics regularly produces data series on school enrolment based on data reported by education ministries or national statistical offices and UN population estimates.


For countries for which administrative data are not available, household survey data may be used to assess school attendance rather than enrolment. Among international surveys, Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey and Demographic and Health Surveys (and sometimes Living Standards Measurement Surveys and the Core Welfare Indicators Questionnaire Surveys in Africa) provide school attendance data.



United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, www.uis.unesco.org.

Monitoring Progress towards the Goals of the World Summit for Children: End-Decade Multiple Indicator Survey Manual, United Nations Children’s Fund  (www.unicef.org/reseval/methodr.html).

The State of the World’s Children, annual, United Nations Children’s Fund (www.unicef.org/publications).

World Development Indicators, annual, World Bank (www.worldbank.org/data).

Human Development Report, annual, United Nations Development Programme (www.undp.org).

Gender Checklist: Gender Issues in Basic and Primary Education, Asian Development Bank (www.adb.org).


Periodicity of measurement

Enrolment data are recorded regularly by ministries of education and available on a yearly basis. Data derived from surveys and censuses, when administrative records on enrolment by age and gender are not available, are less frequent. Net enrolment rates produced by UNESCO are available on an annual basis for two-thirds of countries, but usually one year after the reference year. The United Nations Population Division estimates population by individual years of age biannually, although estimates may be based on population censuses conducted every 10 years. Household survey data, such as those from Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey and Demographic and Health Surveys, are available for many developing countries at regular intervals of three to five years.


Gender issues

In situations of limited resources, families make difficult choices about sending their children to school. They may perceive the value of education differently for boys and girls. Girls are more likely than boys to suffer from limited access to education, especially in rural areas. But where basic education is widely accepted and overall enrolment is high, girls tend to equal or outnumber boys at primary and secondary levels.


Disaggregation issues

Rural and urban differences are particularly important in the analysis of enrolment data, because of significant differences in school facilities, available resources, demand on children’s time for work and drop-out patterns. It is also important to consider disaggregation by geographical areas and social or ethnic groups. However, showing and analyzing data on specific ethnic groups may be a sensitive issue in the country. Gender differences may also be more pronounced in some social and ethnic groups.


International data comparisons

UNESCO data since 1998 follow the 1997 version of the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED97), which enables international comparability between countries. The time series data before 1998 are not consistent with data for 1998 and after.


United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, www.uis.unesco.org.

The State of the World’s Children, annual, United Nations Children’s Fund (www.unicef.org/publications).

World Development Indicators, annual, World Bank (www.worldbank.org/data).

Human Development Report, annual, United Nations Development Programme (www.undp.org).


Comments and limitations

School enrolments may be over-reported for various reasons. Survey data may not reflect actual rates of attendance or dropout during the school year. Administrators may report exaggerated enrolments, especially if there is a financial incentive to do so. Children who repeat years may mistakenly be included in the net figures. Children’s ages may be inaccurately estimated or misstated. Census data maybe out of date or unreliable. There may also be insufficient data on school enrolment by gender, but existing measurement problems make it difficult to correctly assess the situation.


The indicator attempts to capture the education system’s coverage and efficiency, but it does not solve the problem completely. Some children fall outside the official school age because of late or early entry rather than because of grade repetition.


Enrolment data compiled by UNESCO are adjusted to be consistent with ISCED97 and are therefore comparable across countries. National data derived from administrative records are not necessarily based on the same classification over time and may not be comparable with data for other countries, unless exactly the same classification is used. Similarly, the concepts and terms in household surveys and censuses do not necessarily remain constant over time.



Ministries of education.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Institute for Statistics.